New speaker sees

When Sen. Abel Maldonado’s nomination was taken up on the Assembly floor, new Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, was among the members who voted against his confirmation.

But in an interview Wednesday, Perez says he has spoken often to Maldonado and can “see a pathway” for his confirmation.

“He has to put together his 41 (Assembly) votes,” Perez said Wednesday. When pressed, Perez did not divulge what this secret pathway might be, but did say that discussions between Maldonado and himself are ongoing.

“The ball is in his court, as he still needs to get those votes,” said Perez. “I’ve given him some advice on how I think he can get there. It’s up to him to have those conversations and really alleviate people’s concerns. I’d say he’s half way there and there’s some time ahead of us for him to do it. I’m not going to rush him and we’ll figure out a timeline that gives him a fair shot, but also lets people address the concerns they’ve got.”

 Perez holds Maldonado’s political future in his hands. Either house has the power to reject Maldonado’s nomination, and Maldonado has said Perez’s support would be key to whether or not Maldonado is allowed to become lieutenant governor.

Maldonado’s status in political limbo may have more to do with legislative politics than any debate over his fitness for the job of lieutenant governor. If Democrats drag the confirmation process out long enough, it would allow Gov. Schwarzenegger to consolidate the run-off election for Maldonado’s Senate seat with the November 2 election.

When asked if the Assembly was deliberately drawing out the confirmation process beyond April 21 so that Schwarzenegger would call a Nov. 2 election, Perez said, “there’s no guarantee the governor would even consolidate the election. And, the date is April 22, not April 21,” he noted with a quick smile.

Maldonado said Wednesday, “I am continuing to meet privately with members and expect an up or down vote once this Legislature has dealt with the midyear corrections.”

A general election would have higher turn-out than a special election, and Democrats feel it would give them a better chance of picking up Maldonado’s Senate seat. Republican Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo and former Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, are among the potential candidates for the seat.

Maldonado’s confirmation battle on the Assembly floor last month turned into a drawn-out, five-hour affair that looked like it would be headed to the courts.

The Assembly failed to confirm Maldonado’s nomination. He received 37 votes in favor of his confirmation and 35 votes against confirmation. All but one of the Assembly’s Republican members voted for his promotion. Only eight members of the 49-member Democratic caucus voted to support Maldonado. The Assembly’s only independent member, Juan Arambula of Fresno, also voted in support of confirmation.

After threatening legal action over the vote, Gov. Schwarzenegger opted instead to resubmit Maldonado’s name for consideration. That reset the 90-day clock the Legislature has to confirm or reject his nomination. If not action is taken by the end of those 90 days, Maldonado automatically becomes lieutenant governor.

Navigating the Maldonado nomination has been an early test for Perez’s young speakership. The first Maldonado vote occurred as then-Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, was in charge of the caucus, but was clearly focusing on securing support for her imminent Congressional run. Now, the responsibility falls squarely to Perez, who took office this week trumpeting the need for bipartisan cooperation.

The first Maldonado vote was a hyper-partisan affair on the Assembly floor, with all but one Republican voting in favor of confirmation, while only a handful of Assembly Democrats voted to support Maldonado.  Earlier in the day, the Senate confirmed Maldonado on a 27-6 vote, with some of those no votes coming from conservative Republicans. In the Senate, liberal lawmakers like Sens. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, and Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, spoke of comity and bipartisan cooperation. In the Assembly, both Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, and Speaker-elect John Pérez, D-Los Angeles, voted against Maldonado.

The Assembly’s lone independent, Arambula, I-Fresno, voted in favor of Maldonado’s confirmation. “If we reject this nomination, we will be perceived, rightfully so I believe, as putting partisanship above the interests of the state.”

Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier, who opposed Maldonado’s nomination, took issue with the partisan criticism. “The process that created this nomination could not have been any more partisan,” he said. “It is quintessential backroom politics where power brokers gather behind closed doors to carve up political goods.”

Calderon said Maldonado was only appointed by Schwarzenegger because he “went along with what [Schwarzenegger] wanted” during budget debates. And he said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) was simply pushing for Maldonado’s confirmation so Democrats could try to elect a Democrat to Maldonado’s Senate seat.
“There’s no reason to confirm Mr. Maldonado,” Calderon said.

Maldonado was selected by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to succeed Democrat John Garamendi, who was elected to Congress last fall.

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